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E-cigarette TV ads pose hazard to teens and young adults

A new study evaluated the impact of e-cigarette TV ads on teens and young adults
A new study evaluated the impact of e-cigarette TV ads on teens and young adults
Robin Wulffson, MD

E-cigarettes are currently being touted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. In addition, a major public health concern is to encourage abstinence from tobacco products among teens and young adults. This is the period when many begin smoking—and many continue to do so until they suffer major health problems. A new study evaluated the impact of e-cigarette TV ads on teens and young adults. The study was published online on June 2 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and the Florida Department of Health, Tallahassee, Florida.

The study authors note that currently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate e-cigarette marketing unless it is advertised as a smoking cessation aid. In addition, at present, the degree to which teens and young adults are exposed to e-cigarette TV advertisements is unknown. Therefore, they conducted a study to assess trends in teen and young adult exposure to e-cigarette television advertisements in the United States.

The researchers reviewed Nielsen data on TV household audiences’ exposure to e-cigarette advertising across United States markets by calendar quarter, year, and sponsor. They found that teen exposure to television e-cigarette advertisements, measured by target rating points, increased an astounding 256% from 2011 to 2013. Furthermore, young adult exposure increased 321% over the same period. Ads on cable networks predominated: more than 76% of all teen e-cigarette advertising exposure occurred on cable networks and was driven primarily by an advertising campaign for one specific e-cigarette brand.

The authors concluded that e-cigarette companies currently advertise their products to a broad audience, which includes 24 million teens. They suggest that the marked increase in teen and young adult television exposure from 2011 through 2013 was driven primarily by a large advertising campaign on national cable networks. They wrote: “In the absence of evidence-based public health messaging, the current e-cigarette television advertising may be promoting beliefs and behaviors that pose harm to the public health. If current trends in e-cigarette television advertising continue, awareness and use of e-cigarettes are likely to increase among youth and young adults.”